Those of you with small children will no doubt be getting very excited at the title of this game, but stand down, it’s not about Captain Barnacles and his crew. No, Octonaut is a shoot-em-up coming from eastasiasoft, those purveyors of reasonably priced games that are over too quickly. I’m sure it will come as a surprise to absolutely everyone to find out, but here though you really do have to finish the game in order to get all the achievements. I’ll wait while all the achievement hunters throw their arms up in disgust and leave… So, now that we know we are in this for the (relatively) long haul, is Octonaut worth a play?
It appears that games featuring cephalopods as heroes are like buses. There have been no games letting you take charge of a member of the squid or octopus family, and then two hit at once – this one and Ratalaika Games’ Radio Squid.
Octonaut is a side scrolling, retro-styled shmup, and immediately put me in mind of one of my favourite games of the SNES generation, Parodius from Konami. Famously a parody of Gradius, this game allowed you to save the galaxy as an octopus, something which is pretty similar here.
The Octonaut of the title has been called upon to help save the galaxy, and so its off we go into a series of side-scrolling missions that will take us from the depths of the sea to outer space, shooting as we go. Now, the octopus is not one of nature’s natural flyers, and so there has to be some willing suspension of disbelief here to accept that not only can an octopus fly, but it can also shoot projectiles from its mouth. The size of the octopus sprite does actually cause some issues here though – as the bullets that you fire come out of your mouth are occasionally tricky to line up with any foe. It’s quite possible for a row of enemies to miss your bullets and still clip the top of your little octopus head, so you’ll want to bear that in mind throughout your time with this title.
The rest of the shooting tropes are all here though, including power-ups, but here the game takes a little bit of a veer into the left field again. You see, the power-ups you grab change the way that your gun works completely, requiring you to press X to use them. It’s also worth mentioning at this juncture that the B button allows you to dodge into the background, avoiding enemy fire completely. I only mention this as there is no tutorial or help in Octonaut at all, and I found out about the B button completely accidentally.
Anyway, these power-ups. These range from Ninja Stars (good) to a Yo-Yo (bad). In fact, that’s a little unfair as the Yo-Yo is super powerful, but it also – as the name suggests – has the range of a Yo-Yo, so it requires you to be standing almost on the enemies’ bunions in order to hit them. As you can no doubt imagine, trying to take out a fast moving boss with this weapon is nigh on impossible and, honestly, it’s an ache to use.
So far, and pretty much business as usual then – scroll left to right, shoot all the things, then take out a boss. As is usual for eastasiasoft games, the design and personality of the enemies and the hero are top notch. Despite the retro stylings, the Octonaut himself is pretty cute, and the bosses in particular are a varied bunch. The music is perfectly pleasant too, and the difficulty that has seemingly been missing from the entire back catalogue of eastasiasoft games – like Many Faces and Pity Pit – has finally appeared in Octonaut. It’s a real old school kind of deal; there are no difficulty levels and the game gets harder as you go: if you run out of lives, then you start again from the beginning of world one. Soon muscle memory starts to come into play, and you’ll breeze through the earlier levels as you get used to how the game plays.
However, whilst even the bosses are fairly nice to you initially, having easy patterns to learn, about halfway through the fight Octonaut ramps the speed up to the max and really tests your reflexes. And nicely, the game isn’t hamstrung by its achievement list either: while the majority of achievements are fairly easy to unlock, there are some for killing certain bosses as you play through the game, these being the hook that helps to keep you playing as you get a little further each time.
Octonaut on Xbox One then is a game from eastasiasoft that finally rewards the practice you put in; a game that doesn’t shower you with achievements merely for looking at the screen. It’s fast, fun and challenging, and the old school style of one credit and then being left to git gud is a welcome change from the easier games that seem to limp onto the market these days. I’ve really enjoyed being a space octopus shooty thing, and I think you might just enjoy it too. For the price, you may as well give it a try.